Reich & Paolella Secures Unanimous Supreme Court Decision in Favor of Prisoner in Sovereign Immunity Case

In a 9-0 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of petitioner Kim Millbrook in Millbrook  v. United States, a landmark case involving sovereign immunity.

Christopher J. Paolella of Reich & Paolella LLP represented Millbrook, a federal prisoner in Lewisburg, Pa., who alleges that he was abused by prison guards. Millbrook filed a civil suit seeking damages from the United States.  The lower courts dismissed the lawsuit, holding that the federal government had not waived sovereign immunity. Paolella, who took the case pro bono, argued that the Federal Tort Claims Act had waived sovereign immunity.

The Supreme Court agreed and unanimously reversed the lower court’s decision. According to the opinion, delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, “The law enforcement proviso extends to law enforcement officers’ acts or omissions that arise within the scope of their employment, regardless of whether the officers are engaged in investigative or law enforcement activity, or are executing a
search, seizing evidence, or making an arrest.”

The case drew national attention because Millbrook, who represented himself in the lower courts, handwrote his petition to the high court. It is extremely rare for the Supreme Court to hear such cases.

“The Supreme Court read the law as written, and we are pleased they agreed unanimously,” said Paolella.

The issue was whether the sovereign immunity of the United States should be waived “for the intentional torts of prison guards when they are acting within the scope of their employment but are not exercising authority to ‘execute searches, to seize evidence, or to make arrests for violations of Federal law.’ ”

Paolella, a founding partner at Reich & Paolella LLP, was appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to brief and argue the petitioner’s claims. Paolella had served as a law clerk to Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., both on the Supreme Court and on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  His representation of Millbrook was previously the subject of profiles in the New York Law Journal and the National Law Journal.

Reich & Paolella is a New York-based law firm that devotes its practice exclusively to litigation and advocacy, focusing on complex commercial litigation, appeals and critical motions, and white collar defense and investigations. The firm has an active Supreme Court practice.

Previous media coverage:

New York Law Journal, “Small-Firm Litigator Wins Case at U.S. Supreme Court,” by Christine Simmons, March 28, 2013.

NPR, “High Court Rules U.S. Government Can Be Sued Over Actions Of Prison Guards,” by Ailsa Chang, March 27, 2013.

Washington Post, “Supreme Court says federal government can be sued over prison guards’ actions,” by Associated Press, March 27, 2013.

The Week, “How one prisoner’s handwritten petition won him a Supreme Court case,” by Jon Terbush, March 27, 2013.

New York Law Journal, “Litigator Juggles Pro Bono Representation of Inmate With Needs of Start-Up Practice,” by Christine Simmons, February 20, 2013.

National Law Journal, “Appellate Lawyer of the Week: Christopher Paolella,” by Tony Mauro, February 20, 2013.

04/01/2013 | Appeals & Critical Motions: Commercial Litigation: Supreme Court: White Collar Defense & Investigations